Mountaineer killed in Aoraki/Mt Cook avalanche an Australian police officer

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The wife of Australian climber killed in an Aoraki/Mt Cook avalanche says her family is “broken” by his death.

Nathan Deutschbein, 40, was a senior constable at the New South Wales, Blue Mountain Police Area Command.

An Instagram post by his wife. Skye, said he was the family’s “Captain Awesome”.

“We are broken and cannot imagine a world without him.

“Thank you for your prayers. They are the only thing keeping us right now.”

A Blue Mountain Police spokesman said Australian police were working with New Zealand authorities to get his body back to Australia.

Mid-South Canterbury area commander police Inspector Dave Gaskin said an autopsy would be completed in Christchurch.

Deutschbein’s death has been referred to the coroner, he said.

The avalanche happened on the Eugenie Glacier, just below the Footstool mountain peak, about 1.30pm on Thursday.

Deutschbein died at the scene, while a second had minor injuries and was taken to Twizel for medical treatment.

Gaskin said a third climber with the pair had stayed behind at the Sefton Bivouac hut because they were sick.

New South Wales police said in a statement they offered support and condolences to Deutschbein’s wife and family.

“The officer’s family and colleagues have requested privacy at this difficult time.”

A Gofundme page has been set up by a friend for Deutschbein’s family. It says Deutschbein had left behind his wife, Skye, and their two young girls.

“We are praying fervently and trusting Christ to comfort Skye and the girls during this tragic time, and we ask that you do the same,” the page says.

“We also know that many expenses lie ahead for the family, and we would like to try to ease some of that burden.”

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill passed his sympathies on to Deutschbein’s family.

“We are a tight-knit community and our whole city feels the passing when one of our citizens dies in tragic circumstances,” he said.

“I want to extend our love and sympathy to Nathan’s family and friends.”

A post on the New South Wales Police Blue Heelers Facebook page, who represent the each year in the National Police Australian football championships, said Deutschbein​ would be “missed by many”.

“Known as a really great person who served the community of the Blue Mountains in both general duties and as a police rescue operator,” the post said.

The Helicopter Line pilot Nigel Gee, who is based in Mt Cook, flew the rescue mission up to the Eugenie Glacier.

It was a “fairly straightforward” mission and the climbers were found within minutes.

“We found the two people almost straight away. One was clearly alive waving out to us and we figured out pretty quickly the other one was deceased.”

Gee said he was unsure where the climbers were going, but footprints in the snow above them suggested they may have already climbed to the summit  and were on their way back down the glacier when the avalanche happened.

Gee, who has climbed the Footstool mountain peak before, said it was a full alpine climb, which was a “big day out but not excessively challenging”.

The equipment the pair were using suggested they were experienced climbers, he said.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Aoraki/Mt Cook operation manager Brent Swanson said the incident highlighted the risks involved in exploring New Zealand’s mountains.

More rain fell in the area on Thursday than forecasted, which increased the chances of an avalanche.

“The snow at Eugenie Glacier was loose and slushy as warmer temperatures meant the snow hadn’t frozen for several nights.”

Swanson said a 20-metre wide avalanche travelled for 300m, pushing the two climbers into a crevasse, which made the rescue more challenging.

He praised the climbers for carrying a personal locator beacon.

“This meant we knew exactly where they were in trouble and could quickly assemble a crew to rescue them.”

A spokesman for the Mountain Safety Council, which runs the NZ Avalanche Advisory, said there had been a “moderate” forecast for the region, including the possibility of “loose-wet” avalanches above 1200 metres.

DOC advises trampers that most of the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is made up of complex avalanche terrain, “which demands respect from all who use it”.

Snow falls year-round in the park, meaning higher altitude avalanches can happen at any time of the year.

Climbers at higher elevations can be at particular risk during the summer, DOC says.

Thursday’s incident comes just one month after two mountain guides died in an avalanche on the nearby Mt Hicks.

Martin Hess, 50, and Wolfgang Maier, 58, died when an avalanche struck their climbing party on October 31. Their companion, climber Jo Morgan, survived after struggling for 30 minutes to set off her locator beacon and spending another 45 minutes digging her way free.

A 29-year-old Australian woman also died in the Eugenie Glacier areawhen she fell 300 metres while climbing in December 2015.

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